Why lo­cal malls are trad­ing hands at such a tor­rid pace

Thanks in part to a short­age of land sup­ply and a change in shop­ping pat­terns, malls across the GTA have be­come a hot tar­get for re­de­vel­op­ment

Midtown Post - - Contents - — Sa­man­tha Peksa, with files from Macken­zie Patterson

Large pieces of de­vel­opable land in the Toronto area are in high de­mand, but the sup­ply is very low. Low-den­sity neigh­bour­hood shop­ping malls with a sea of park­ing spa­ces, such as Bayview Vil­lage and Gal­le­ria Shop­ping Cen­tre, are be­ing eyed for ma­jor re­de­vel­op­ment projects from down­town up to Rich­mond Hill. Res­i­dents faced with such ma­jor changes to their quaint ar­eas are not al­ways over­joyed about the prospects.

David Am­borski, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Ur­ban Re­search and Land De­vel­op­ment at Ry­er­son Univer­sity, said lo­cal malls are some of the last re­main­ing parcels of land avail­able for re­de­vel­op­ment in Toronto, and real es­tate in­vestors and devel­op­ers are seiz­ing the op­por­tu­nity.

“I think a big thing is a short­age of land sup­ply. Th­ese com­pa­nies have port­fo­lios that they’re build­ing across Toronto. The is­sue is it’s very dif­fi­cult to find sites to build at,” said Am­borski.

But that’s only one piece of the puz­zle. Am­borski said he be­lieves part of the trend also stems from a change in shop­ping pat­terns, and malls are tak­ing a big hit.

An­chor ten­ants have closed up shop at malls across the coun­try, and that’s had a ma­jor im­pact.

Sears re­cently an­nounced it will be forced to close many lo­ca­tions and lay off more than 2,000 em­ploy­ees as part of a court- su­per­vised re­struc­tur­ing process. Tar­get closed all of its Cana­dian stores in 2015.

“I think more and more peo­ple are buy­ing on­line,” said Am­borski. “Th­ese mar­ginal malls are not do­ing very well fi­nan­cially, so peo­ple are happy to sell them if they’re of­fered a good buck. Then hope­fully the peo­ple who buy them get re­zon­ing to build res­i­den­tial.”

Last year, a plan for two tow­ers on the Bayview Vil­lage park­ing lot was brought to the pub­lic for feed­back.

Toby Wu, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of de­vel­op­ment with QuadReal Prop­erty Group, which will take over man­age­ment of the prop­erty in 2018, said that a new re­zon­ing ap­pli­ca­tion for the site will be sub­mit­ted to the City of Toronto this month.

“We have been work­ing with the com­mu­nity and coun­cil­lor David Shiner [of Ward 24, Wil­low­dale] with our con­sult­ing team for the over­all master plan for Bayview Vil­lage,” said Wu.

He would not dis­close the de­tails of the new plan, but said it will not in­clude Bayview Mews, a rental com­plex across the street that is also in the com­pany’s port­fo­lio.

Fur­ther north, the Promenade Shop­ping Cen­tre in Thorn­hill was re­cently sold to Promenade Gen­eral Part­ner Inc., a com­pany made up of Lib­erty De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion and the Ser­ruya fam­ily — the founders of Yogen Früz.

The pur­chase of Promenade has many res­i­dents spec­u­lat­ing that the area will soon see fur­ther in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion.

A sep­a­rate de­vel­oper, Toron­to­based Tor­gan Group, has al­ready pro­posed seven 27-storey tow­ers for a site ad­ja­cent to the mall.

Lo­cal op­po­si­tion al­ways plays a part in how each site is re­de­vel­oped, and this par­tic­u­lar pro­posal has spurred quite a bit of con­tro­versy among res­i­dents in Thorn­hill.

San­dra Ye­ung Racco, Ward 4 coun­cil­lor for the City of Vaughan and a res­i­dent of the area, said the pro­posal has many com­mu­nity mem­bers con­cerned.

“We heard a lot of com­ments from res­i­dents, and they’re not happy with the pro­posal,” she said. “They don’t want some­thing that will be too dense and too high.”

In an ef­fort to get res­i­dents’ sup­port, green space, pub­lic art and com­mu­nity ameni­ties are be­ing in­cor­po­rated into new open-air re­tail spa­ces.

The Shops at Don Mills, owned by Cadil­lac Fairview, was one of the first en­closed malls to un­dergo a ma­jor trans­for­ma­tion into an ope­nair shop­ping cen­tre.

The de­vel­op­ment was de­signed to mimic an ur­ban streetscape and in­cludes com­mu­nity ameni­ties such as a small green space used for ac­tiv­i­ties like pub­lic skat­ing.

Niall Collins, se­nior vi­cepres­i­dent of de­vel­op­ment at Cadil­lac Fairview, said the re­vamp was part of a larger strat­egy.

“There’s no doubt that the re­tail en­vi­ron­ment is un­der­go­ing dra­matic shifts,” said Collins. “The de­ci­sion to launch an open-air mall … was based on trends to­ward ur­ban­iza­tion and mixed-used de­vel­op­ments. Toronto has seen great suc­cess with many street-front com­mer­cial dis­tricts, in­clud­ing Queen West, Bloor, Yorkville, etc., and we saw this as an evo­lu­tion of that trend.”

How­ever the con­cept was ini­tially met with skep­ti­cism by the Don Mills com­mu­nity. More than 1,000 res­i­dents at­tended the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion for it back in 2006. Many op­posed the built form and den­sity, and lo­cal shop­keep­ers feared re­lo­cat­ing dur­ing the re­de­vel­op­ment process, but the area has be­come a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion that con­tin­ues to grow.

More condos are ex­pected in the com­ing years, and plans for a pub­lic com­mu­nity cen­tre on the north­west cor­ner of Don Mills Road and the Don­way West were fi­nal­ized with the city in July.

The reimag­in­ing of the Gal­le­ria Shop­ping Cen­tre, near Duf­ferin Street and Dupont Street, ap­pears to be fol­low­ing the same pat­tern.

A plan for the site was pro­posed by Freed De­vel­op­ments and ELAD in 2016 and calls for a net­work of roads, tall tow­ers to be used for res­i­den­tial and of­fice space, a siz­able pub­lic park, a new com­mu­nity cen­tre and of course, re­tail space. How­ever, it too has come un­der fire from res­i­dents for ex­ceed­ing the city’s pre­scribed height lim­its — with 11 tow­ers up to 42 storeys pro­posed.

The trend shows no signs of slow­ing down as more re­de­vel­op­ment projects are com­ing for­ward in the area around Hill­crest Mall in Rich­mond Hill and near the Duf­ferin Mall south of Bloor in Toronto.

“There’s no doubt that the re­tail en­vi­ron­ment is un­der­go­ing dra­matic shifts.”

Clock­wise from left: an aerial shot of Bayview Vil­lage point­ing out the two park­ing lots cur­rently ear­marked for re­de­vel­op­ment; a ren­der­ing of the Shops at Don Mills from 2016; and a ren­der­ing of the reimag­ined Gal­le­ria Shop­ping Cen­tre

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